cosmetology school

Considering Enrolling In Cosmetology School?

But Still Unsure If It's The Right Career Path For You?

Maybe you have already made up your mind that cosmetology is definitely the career you want to have from now until the day you retire.

You are just collecting all of the information you can, so you are able to make the best, most educated decision on choosing the right cosmetology school for you.

No matter where you are in the decision-making process, you are at the right place because you are about to learn everything you could want, and quite honestly need, to know about getting into and successfully completing cosmetology school.

But first, let’s talk about exactly what cosmetology means, so you are crystal clear on what it is you are considering for a lifelong career.

What Is Cosmetology?

If you want to attend cosmetology school, you may have a career in any of the following areas:

The National Center for Education Statistics shares that cosmetology is a career path which encompasses a variety of different client-based services, all of which are in the realm of physical appearance.

  • Hair cut, color, and style
  • Nail care, including manicures and pedicures
  • Makeup artistry
  • Skin care

If you’re passionate in one—or all—of these areas, then cosmetology school is likely the right school for you. But, does entering this particular field require you to obtain specialized schooling?

Why Attend Cosmetology School?

If you wanted to be a chef in a nice restaurant, you might be able to achieve that goal simply by working hard and honing your craft in lower-scale food establishments, eventually making your way up the chain based solely on your effort, determination, and abilities. However, that’s not how it works with cosmetology.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), every state mandates that a cosmetologist must complete cosmetology school and become licensed in order to practice in that state.  If you don’t go to school to undergo the necessary training in cosmetology, you cannot legitimately work in this field. indicates that cosmetology is the “fourth most heavily regulated occupation among moderate-income occupations,” when compared to other types of occupational licenses. This means that there is absolutely no way to work around this requirement. If you want a career in cosmetology, you must go to school to earn a license.

Now, let’s talk your employability options once you graduate from school and obtain your license. 

As the BLS reports, there will be approximately 64,400 more cosmetologists, hair stylists, and barbers in the year 2024 than there was in 2014. This 10 percent growth rate is pretty good considering that the national average for all careers combined is closer to seven percent.

Of course, there is also the option of owning your own salon.

If this is your ultimate goal, cosmetology school can help you achieve it. In addition to teaching about hair, nails, skin, and makeup, you will also learn salon ownership basics.

For instance, many schools offer classes to help students become more knowledgeable on what it takes to own a salon.

  • How to market your services more effectively
  • How to stay within state and federal worker guidelines
  • Ways to improve client relations

Is There A Difference Between Cosmetology School And Beauty School?

It’s not uncommon for cosmetology school and beauty school to be used interchangeably.

Yet while it may be subtle, there is actually a difference between the two.

It is important to realize this difference up front to ensure that you are attending the school that can give you the career you want.

According to the online career resource, Career Igniter, cosmetology school is essentially “a school which offers full-length beauty courses covering topics on makeup, hair, nails and some skin care.”

cosmetology class

In further detail, cosmetology school provides students with information on business management and growth, giving them the education and skills they need should their dream be to become a business owner.

A beauty school, on the other hand, does not always provide this type of comprehensive training in all of the areas that make up cosmetology. For instance, some beauty schools only offer specialized programs covering only barbering, makeup artistry, or esthetician training.

While this type of school may be great if you know exactly what niche you would like to work, attending cosmetology school provides a broader range of training, giving you the opportunity to work in different areas later on without additional schooling.

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What Can I Expect In The Average Cosmetology School Curriculum?

For most people, this is the fun and exciting part because the curriculum is all about what you can expect to learn while enrolled in cosmetology school. Effectively, these are the areas where you are able to have real, hands-on training to learn a variety of skills in different areas of cosmetology.

Most cosmetology school curriculums include classes in the following seven areas:

1. General Cosmetology

Regardless of which area you intend to focus on as a specialty, you will take this course to learn patient ethics, personal grooming, human anatomy and physiology, hygiene and sanitation, basic and advanced cosmetology tools and equipment (electronic and otherwise). You will become familiar with information that is meant to guide you through your cosmetology career.

2. Hair Care, Cutting, and Style

In classes directed toward the hair, you will learn about the different types, proper scalp and hair care, how to shampoo and condition effectively, and basic hair care tips. You will dive deeper into hair trimming, thinning, curling, and shaping techniques, and how to do specialized cuts like pixie cuts and A-line cuts.

You can expect to cover the art of braiding and styling, as well as learning how to do popular styles like up-dos, wedding styles, and competition styles. Lastly, you’ll also learn about wigs and hair extension applications and care.

3. Hair Coloring

These classes teach students how to safely use coloring chemicals and the different techniques related to creating highlights or lowlights, how to properly apply all over color, and do touch-ups.

Coloring involves learning which colors work best given the client’s skin color and tone, so students can learn to help those who are unsure pick a color and coloring style that works best for them.

4. Nail Care

The nail section of the curriculum addresses nail disorders and diseases, infection control practices, how to properly perform manicures and pedicures, how to apply acrylic tips and forms, effective nail repair methods, and proper polish techniques.

These skills are necessary not only as the service provider, but to better educate the client interested in how to perform proper nail care in between visits.

5. Skin Care

These classes generally start with the student learning about the history of this specialized art. From there, additional classes explain deeper the skin disorders and diseases, skin types, learning how to provide facials, the art of dermabrasion, proper skin cleansing techniques (based on skin type), and even hair removal.

6. Makeup Application

Cosmetology students interested in makeup application enjoy classes including: color theory, basic makeup tools. makeup application tips and tricks, how to apply air brush makeup, and esthetics.

7. Salon Management

For the student interested in opening his or her own salon, these courses provide the foundation in which to do it.

These courses include creating strong client relations, adhering to business ethics, effective marketing techniques, business labor laws and workers’ compensation rights, and other business-related subjects associated with running a successful salon.

How Long Is Cosmetology School?

If you are currently working or have some other obligation that will not allow you to focus solely on school, then you are likely closer to a year-and-a-half of attending school on a limited, part-time basis. If you are able to commit to going to classes on a full-time basis, you can expect to go for at least nine months, if not longer.

Each cosmetology school is slightly different in terms of its time requirements, but the BLS indicates that most full-time programs take nine months or more to complete. 

If you would like a better idea of what your time commitment will be, provides the average number of days a cosmetology student will likely spend in school depending on which state he or she is attending school.

If you are going to a school in New York or Massachusetts, that amount ranges from approximately 233 days. If your school of choice is located in South Dakota, Nebraska, or Iowa, the amount of days could be up to 490.

Though the focus has been predominantly on going to cosmetology school after graduating from high school, some high schools do offer this type of training for students who already know that cosmetology is their career path.

Through a partnership with a recognized cosmetology school, a high school may offer part-time classes. These generally take two years during the student’s junior and senior year to complete.

What Are Cosmetology School's Requirements?

When it comes to what you need to do before entering cosmetology school, every state has its own requirements. Make sure you meet these two minimum requirements before taking the time to enroll in a cosmetology school to ensure that you will not run into any obstacles when seeking admittance or licensing post-graduation.

These are the only two qualifications you need to meet.

  • You must be at least 16 years of age.
  • You must have graduated from high school or have an equivalent diploma or degree—unless you’re in a program offered by a high school, as we mentioned previously.

Most schools require you to prove that you meet their minimum requirements. To do so, cosmetology schools typically request a state-issued picture identification, such as a driver’s license or a state ID. High school graduation or its equivalent can often be shown by providing a copy of your diploma, your GED (General Education Development or General Education Diploma), or if you cannot locate either, your high school transcripts.

Some cosmetology schools also require that you submit letters of recommendation or personal essays (either written or video) with your application—while others want you to take aptitude tests or answer additional questions about your education and experience.

Each school's requirements are different, so take the time to research the requirements of the school you want to attend.

Knowing up front what type of requirements they have and what type of documentation you need to prove can help make the application process go much smoother.

Additionally, if you’re applying for financial aid to help you cover the costs of school, you will may need your tax forms from prior years—or your parent’s tax information, if you’re underage. Though it is unlikely you should have to hand these types of forms over to the school because the application process now occurs online through FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

How Do I Pick The Best Cosmetology School For Me?

Deciding which school to attend, no matter what the area of study, involves looking at a lot of factors that affect you personally. Ideally, you want to select a school that is reputable for turning out good students, thus making you more marketable after graduation.

Here are some factors to consider and ask the school before beginning the application process.

The student-teacher ratio: The smaller this ratio is, the more one-on-one time you will get with your instructors, which can be beneficial if you are struggling in a certain area or learn best from individual instruction.

Graduation rate: Check out the number of students who are able to successfully complete the program to give you a better idea of how successfully the school is able to teach and how difficult the classes are to pass.

Affordability: Ask yourself whether you can afford that particular cosmetology school based on your income and budget. Be sure to include any dues that you are able to obtain via financial aid—which we will talk more about in a minute.

After-graduation placement services: If a cosmetology school offers assistance with placing you after graduation, this can help increase the likelihood of gaining employment as soon as you are licensed and able to work in the field.

Of course, going to cosmetology school is only half of the equation. The other half involves the student being as successful as possible while they are there.

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What Qualities Does A Successful Cosmetology Student Possess?

So, what does it take to be a successful cosmetology student?

Stellar people skills: As a cosmetologist, your livelihood is based on your ability to garner repeat business. This requires knowing how to best interact with your clients in a way that makes them want to come back to you again and again. Be a good listener, withhold judgment, and appear genuine.

A positive personality: Have you ever met a service professional who was so positive and upbeat that it made you smile at the mere thought of them? If you can make your clients feel like that when they think of you, you will be on the way to success.

An inquisitive nature: Not only does cosmetology require a passion for the initial learning of the trade, but being inquisitive throughout one’s career is important when it comes to keeping up with all of the latest fads and trends. Enable yourself to stay informed on the newest trends and techniques to better serve your clientele.

Good physical stamina: Not only does cosmetology require a passion for the initial learning of the trade, but being inquisitive throughout one’s career is important when it comes to keeping up with all of the latest fads and trends. Enable yourself to stay informed on the newest trends and techniques to better serve your clientele.

The BLS shares that other important qualities that are critical to success in cosmetology include: having a certain level of creativity, being tidy, and practicing good time management skills.

How Much Does Cosmetology School Cost?

Cosmetology school is just like any other postsecondary school in that you are expected to pay for your learning materials and tuition.

According to the American Association of Cosmetology Schools (AACS), the average tuition ranges from $6,500 to $10,000 or more, with the actual amount depending largely on location.

If the school you choose is in a rural area, the tuition is generally cheaper. If the school is in a bigger city, you will likely pay more.

Fortunately for you, the Higher Education Opportunity Act requires all postsecondary institutions to publish a net price calculator on their websites to make it easier to find out up front what it will cost.

Unlike classes at a college or university where you just go sit and listen to lectures, cosmetology school has mostly hands-on classes, which means that you have to pay for the additional supplies used.

Here’s a helpful tip—ask about having to purchase supplies from specific vendors beforehand, so you can budget accordingly for all of your educational needs.

Depending on which cosmetology school you choose, you may be required to purchase these types of items from specific vendors. These supplies could include acquiring standard cosmetology tools, as well as frocks and aprons.

Are There Any Grants Or Scholarships To Help Combat The Price?

According to the student loan experts at LendEDU, if you attend an accredited cosmetology school, you may be able to offset some of the costs with federal aid in the form of Pell Grants, work-study, or subsidized and unsubsidized loans.

Cosmetology school does not have to be out of your price range–there are many scholarship opportunities out there to help you overcome the financial obstacle of school.

Check out our list of the top cosmetology school scholarships that may be available to you!

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The AACS also indicates if you are attending one of the cosmetology schools included in their association, you may be eligible for one of their grants or scholarships.

They come in a variety of denominations, with some offering $1,000 worth of help, up to bigger ones, like the Rosy Salon Software Cosmetology Scholarship, which is a $10,000 scholarship awarded to 12 recipients annually.

Can You Take Cosmetology School Online?

While some schools do offer online cosmetology classes, individual state licensing requirements may prohibit you from getting your cosmetology license—if you choose to take this route.

This only makes sense as a majority of cosmetology training is conducted via hands-on experience. In-classroom work enables the instructors to better evaluate student skills and techniques to offer more constructive advice.

If you are interested in taking any online cosmetology classes, it is suggested that you check with the licensing agency in your state first.

online cosmetology classes

Some do allow a certain number of online credits, which means you can enjoy the convenience of learning from home without hurting your ability to become licensed once you are ready. If your school is not one that allows online courses, at least you will know before you waste time and money attending classes that you are unable to use toward your licensing requirements.

What Comes After Graduation?

Once you graduate from cosmetology school, you must obtain your license. Each state has different requirements, so make sure to check with the licensing board in your particular state of residence to find out exactly what steps you must take next.

Be prepared to pay a licensing fee. The fee amount differs by state. For instance, if you reside in California, the fee for 2017 is $125. However, if you want to practice cosmetology in Indiana, it is only $40.

After you obtain your license and accept a position in a salon, or if you decide to rent a booth, your employer may or may not provide you with cosmetology insurance to protect your career. And, if your employee does provide you with liability insurance, you cannot always assume you are 100% covered.

So, why carry your own professional liability insurance policy? Having this type of cosmetology insurance can protect you in the event a client suffers a mishap while in your care. There are more than 5,000 beauty-related emergency room visits every year, which makes carrying the right insurance more and more important.

For more information on how you can protect your career, while in school and after graduation, click here.

Deciding whether to attend cosmetology school is a major decision that should not be made lightly.

However, now that you know everything you need to know, you will be able to make the decision that is right for you.

Cosmetology School FAQs

How long does it take to become a cosmetologist?

In order to begin cosmetology school, you’ll first need to have completed high school or have a GED. Once you’re in school, it will depend on the program and even the state in which you are located. Since cosmetology contains many different beauty vocations all wrapped in one - barber, stylist, makeup artist - the cosmetology curriculum can be fairly broad. Many cosmetology programs will require hands-on experience such as through an internship after the classroom portion is completed.

After all of this is completed in a satisfactory manner, you’ll still need to sit and pass a state licensing exam to become a full-fledged cosmetologist. From the first day of classes through licensing can be as long as four years, depending on part-time versus full-time class loads. Some cosmetology schools offer accelerated programs that typically take less than one year to complete.

What do you do in cosmetology school?

Different programs will vary in what they focus on and specializations are common for cosmetologists in school. State boards also vary in what information is required to be mastered to pass the licensing exam. For example, the Florida state board for cosmetology exam has two main parts - the written theory exam and the written clinical exam. 

The cosmetology license exam in Florida is extensive, requiring demonstrable mastery of the following broad subjects:

  • General Safety and Sanitation Procedures

  • Client Services

  • Facials, Make-up and Hair Removal

  • Manicuring and Pedicuring

  • Professional, Legal, and Ethics

  • Hair Coloring and Highlighting

  • Permanent Waving and Chemical Relaxing

  • Scalp and Hair Color

  • Hair Styling

  • Hair Cutting and Shaping

The exam is so broad because a cosmetologist is a trusted advisor, skilled and versatile in the art of making clients look and feel truly beautiful. With trust, comes responsibility. Before enrolling in a particular program, make sure your cosmetology school covers all of the areas you’ll need to pass your state board’s licensing exam with flying colors.

Can you get student loans for cosmetology school?

Absolutely. There are many options out there for helping to fund your education as a cosmetologist. Sallie Mae, long associated with federal education loans, offers a career training smart option student loan for professional training and trade certificate courses. These come with some fairly low rates and flexible terms. As well, federal loans, state loans, and a myriad of grants are available. Your best place to start is by filling out the FAFSA at

What do I need for my first week at cosmetology school?

As you prepare to begin your cosmetology school program, there’s some advanced steps you should take to hit the ground running your first week to start getting the most out of your time and investment in the program: 

  • Make sure to be rested: sounds basic but do your absolute best to get a great night’s sleep before each day of class. You’ll be more alert to learning and participating in what's being taught. 
  • Get organized: get back in “learning mode” with whatever organizational tools work best for you - a notebook with binders, laptop with folders, highlighters, sticky notes, etc.  

Come to class prepared: we recommend packing your bag the night before with everything you need for the next day so you can just grab and go. Be sure to pack your books, notebooks, laptop, pen, paper, etc. but also remember water and snacks to keep you hydrated and focused. Wear comfortable clothing, especially shoes, as there will be long periods on your feet. Also, lotion is a good idea because you’ll be washing your hands often - which can lead to dry skin.

Is cosmetology school worth it?

The profession itself is incredibly rewarding. As one part therapist and one part beauty professional, you will help heal people from the inside out. Making clients feel beautiful when they look in the mirror. Looking past insecurities to bravely face what lays before them.

All that being said, to get there takes an incredible amount of hard work and dedication. If you apply yourself in beauty school, taking in as much as you can, being engaged in discussion, asking questions, and making connections, you'll find you will begin your career with a noticeable leg up.